TIFF 2015: Patrick Stewart Is Worried About Football

“Come on guys, don’t let me.

“Come on guys, don’t let me down,” says Patrick Stewart, clutching his MacBook so tightly that I swear it’s bending in the centre.

I’m worried the veteran actor – who came to TIFF with the Midnight Madness opener Green Room, and hung around to play Prince Humperdinck in Jason Reitman’s live reading of The Princess Bride – has come off a bad interview and is now demanding better questions from me and the other journalist in the room.

But then he looks up, and I realize he wasn’t even talking to us. There’s a live-ticker of a British football game on the computer’s screen.

“Oh, it’s my team,” he says. “It’s a team I’ve supported since I was seven years old. It’s a championship game – Cardiff [City] versus Huddersfield [Town]. Huddersfield is my team. I just want the score, that’s all. It’s still nil-nil. It will come up, I know it will.”

The idea of Sir Patrick Stewart – 75 years old, noted star of stage and screen – getting caught up in a football match is, frankly, adorable. I’ve interviewed him before, and seen him on stage – a revival of Pinter’s No Man’s Land on Broadway, opposite his great friend Sir Ian McKellen – but if anything he seems younger and more energized today than he did the last time we met.

Stewart’s engagement with Huddersfield Town extends beyond rooting for them from the other side of the Atlantic. He’s the president of the club’s Academy, which seeks out and develops young players. And that’s just one facet of the actor’s public engagement he’s an advocate for numerous social and political causes. Earlier this week, one of them – the assisted-suicide movement Dignity In Dying – suffered a major defeat in England.

“The debate was on Friday and we lost really badly,” he says. “The law is not going to change. It was a huge disappointment.”

 He’s also annoyed that his contributions are being dismissed by opponents as some sort of performance.

“[Justin] Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, yesterday in the Guardian wrote that ‘We have to put aside these celebrity endorsements,’” he says, “That made me so angry. Actors and writers and directors, they’re not doing this for publicity they’re working behind the scenes, doing a huge amount of work – good, high-quality work – drawing attention to issues that need some correction. And yet there’s guys like the Archbishop saying ‘Ah, celebrity endorsements, what do they mean, they don’t understand the moral issues.’ Bullshit.”

He’s happier talking about Green Room’s Midnight Madness premiere. Jeremy Saulnier’s film casts him as a calculating white supremacist trying to eliminate a punk band who’ve witnessed some unpleasantness at his club. The movie is tense, funny and brutal – and the crowd ate it up.

“This was cinemagoing like a football match!” he marvels. “I have never heard an audience react en masse, yelling, screaming, gasping, shouting ‘Noooo!’ when something was about to happen.”

That’s a Midnight Madness audience for you, I say. They get wound up.

“I’ve never been in a cinema like that! I had to remind myself: ‘This is Canada!’” Stewart laughs. “My perception of Canadians has changed forever.”

As he’s been talking, I notice the ticker on his computer has changed. I gently direct his attention to it. Cardiff City 1, Huddersfield Town nil.

“Ah, shit,” Patrick Stewart says.

normw@nowtoronto.com | @normwilner

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